A Ghanaian proverb teaches us how to handle a fly that perches on the scrotum.. a huge dose of patience and tact is needed to gently nudge off the incommodious creature. But as long as the Catholic hierarchy remains conflicted in solving the Mbaka problem, however, the Nigerian church will live with the sad reality that he who goes to sleep with an itchy anus will be sure to wake up with smelly fingers.

The Catholic Church, with more than 2000 years of history under its belt, has been called the oldest institution in the Western world. It has successfully fought and won many wars, internal and external, in a bid to keep her 1.2 billion faithful from drifting in a constantly changing world. At no time, however, did it reckon that the 21st century Nigerian church will be home to celebrity priests with mega-fortunes, whose clout will test the resilience of the great institution. Her Achilles heel remains how to deal with the errant clergy within its ranks. One of such is Reverend Father Camillus Ejike Mbaka, the parish priest and spiritual director of the Enugu based Adoration Ministry. 

Founded in 1998, Adoration Ministry is a religious institution with a staff strength between five hundred and one thousand persons, according to its profile on LinkedIn. Every Friday night and most nights, huge crowds numbering in thousands would gather on the outskirts of Enugu for an all-night worship that combines masses, preaching, eucharistic adoration, dances and, of course, fiery political rhetoric. The Adoration experience could be described as a mish-mass of orthodox Catholicism and charismatic Pentecostalism, laced with political activism. Love it or hate it, it has a strong appeal to the thousands of devotees who throng to the place for spiritual healing and special anointing.

The Ministry also has a business arm, with interests in many areas, including beverage manufacturing, bottled water production, real estate and quarries, to mention just a few. Some have argued that it was the success of the Ministry’s beverage business that forced Coca Cola to close shop after a 40-year stint in the coal city-state. Fr. Mbaka has become so rich and powerful that the biggest politicians in town, including presidents, line up every election cycle to lobby for his support.

Father Mbaka is one controversial and highly divisive figure. For the millions of his fanatical followers, who call him Daddy, he speaks no evil and many are ready to lay down their lives for him. The rest of us Catholics are wringing our hands, worried that his dubious prophecies, rabble rousing and theatricals have finally succeeded in bringing the Sacrament of the Holy Order (Priesthood) into serious disrepute. His divinations often align with his pockets and he is quick to change them, as soon as manna stops falling. The man has no qualms cozying up to politicians of very questionable characters, as long as there is a promise of pecuniary gain. Several attempts to rein in on his excesses by the presiding Bishop of the Enugu Diocese failed woefully. Buoyed by the strength of his following and the financial fire power of his Ministry, he became untouchable.

About 60 kilometres away from Mbaka’s Ministry and in the university town of Nsukka, is another kindred spirit. Reverend Father Paul Martins Obayi (Okunerere) is the fiery priest who runs the eponymous Okunerere Adoration Ministry (OKAM). Founded in 2001, OKAM also promises rich prophecies and divine healing. Not too long ago, he hosted a religious programme that heavily featured Chukwuemeka Ohanaemere (Odumeje), the controversial Onitsha based pastor, known for body-slamming the sick as a method of healing. Odumeje was given such a red-carpet reception that would make even a king green with envy. Such a sketchy character was what an ordained Catholic priest paraded as a model to his flock. How unsettling!

Fr. Mbaka and his ilk have gone rogue on the church and repeatedly flouted the rules of their calling. He dabbles into partisan politics unapologetically. The fall out of his most recent political rant rattled the church and his Bishop invited him for questioning, only for his followers to turn around and vandalise the Bishop’s court.

Despite all their shortcomings, however, even the most ardent critic would concede that these priests, through their ministries, have engaged in dozens of philanthropic efforts, which are highly commendable. The problem is that Father Mbaka uses those laudable ventures as an excuse to play by a different set of rules, in total disregard of his ecclesiastical authority (Bishop) and the church; a breach in the promise he made at ordination.

Has the priest forgotten what God warned us in the book of Samuel 15:22-24 that: “Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice and to listen than the fat of rams…? For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”

Fr. Mbaka and his ilk have gone rogue on the church and repeatedly flouted the rules of their calling. He dabbles into partisan politics unapologetically. The fall out of his most recent political rant rattled the church and his Bishop invited him for questioning, only for his followers to turn around and vandalise the Bishop’s court. Each time, Father Mbaka tries to hide under the guise of championing the cause of the poor and claims that he is suffering persecution for that reason. Hubris!

The canon law of the Catholic Church provides for the way to discipline an errant priest. It could be something as simple as a letter of reprimand for minor infractions, to the most severe such as defrockment, also known as laicisation. That means a dismissal from the clerical state. Defrockment is often a long legal process that takes years and involves appeals and written notices.

Suspension is another disciplinary measure, which was favoured in Mbaka’s case by the Catholic Bishop of Enugu diocese. Often called faux defrockment, it’s the preferred disciplinary method, as it is quick and relatively free of legal strings. Rev. James A. Coriden, a canon lawyer with the Washington Theological Union likened suspension to pulling a police officer off the street after a shooting incident. “It doesn’t imply conviction or judgment, just taking them off duty during an investigation,” he explained.

Every so often, a priest may decide to voluntarily resign his position, as was the case with Father Patrick Henry Edet on July 31, 2017.

Father Mbaka has many options to choose from if the church is not serving his purposes. He should either stay put and abide by the rules of the church or chart a different course for himself and his Ministry. There is, no doubt, that the controversial priest has enormous clout and commands a lot of influence, which makes his case a lot more challenging…

During his time as a Catholic priest, Reverend Edet ran a Pentecostal-styled fellowship called Grace Family Outreach. He also hosted a weekly live radio programme called “Grace and Inspiration” in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. Just like Mbaka, the former Catholic priest started to drift from the norms of the church and this caused serious friction between him and the Catholic Diocese of Uyo. Eventually, he made a choice to quit in order to avoid breaking the rules and regulation guiding the doctrines of the Catholic priesthood. Today, he may not be that “High Priest in the order of Melchizedek” but he remains a minister of the gospel and from what we hear, he is even happily married with children. Revderen Edet made what he believed to be the right decision both for himself and the mother Church.

The religious upheavals of the 16th Century were pivotal in the history of the Church of England. It was the time a group of men and women later referred to as the Puritans demanded that the Church embrace certain reforms. They pushed for a simpler form of worship and wanted to do away with structures and rituals inherited from the Roman church and in the process threatened division among the laity. In 1607, a more radical sect of the puritans left England, sought and was granted asylum in Leyden, Holland. Thirteen years later, a splinter faction of the Leyden Puritans, numbering 102, boarded a merchant ship called the Mayflower and set sail to start life in the New World (America). They landed in the New England city of Cape Cod. That was how the modern-day United States of America was born. Just a group of people who embarked on an odyssey in pursuit of liberty and religious freedom.

There is no doubt that the world has changed a lot since the 16th Century England, when religious freedom was seriously under threat. Citizens, for the most part, are now free to choose the faith they profess and practice it along others, without fear of intimidation. A man may just wake up in the morning and decide to unfollow a group that encroaches on his religious freedom. Such individual is also free to set up his own group without restriction, as long as the practice is within the limits of the law. Why then are some so bent on upsetting the applecart, when several of these options abound?

Father Mbaka has many options to choose from if the church is not serving his purposes. He should either stay put and abide by the rules of the church or chart a different course for himself and his Ministry. There is, no doubt, that the controversial priest has enormous clout and commands a lot of influence, which makes his case a lot more challenging for Bishop Calistus Onaga and the Catholic Diocese of Enugu.

A Ghanaian proverb teaches us how to handle a fly that perches on the scrotum, of all places. Nothing for sure could be more exasperating. But no matter how upset, the idea of smashing it to death in a fit of anger is never an option. The collateral damage needs to be avoided at all cost. Instead, a huge dose of patience and tact is needed to gently nudge off the incommodious creature. But as long as the Catholic hierarchy remains conflicted in solving the Mbaka problem, however, the Nigerian church will live with the sad reality that he who goes to sleep with an itchy anus will be sure to wake up with smelly fingers.

Osmund Agbo, a public affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: eagleosmund@yahoo.com

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